Waterloo Region's top doctor encourages 'cautious approach' ahead of further reopening in Ontario
Waterloo Region's medical officer of health is encouraging residents to follow a "cautious approach" as Ontario prepares to increase capacity at many establishments.
Premier Doug Ford announced the province will lift capacity limits in restaurants, fitness centres, and casinos and other non-essential indoor settings requiring proof of vaccination starting Monday.
- READ MORE: Ontario to lift capacity limits in restaurants and gyms starting Monday, masking mandates to end by late March
"We need to continue with a cautious approach towards the lifting of public health measures," Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said the region's weekly COVID-19 briefing on Friday. "Our residents can take actions to reduce their risk though maintaining core public health practices of masking, distancing, keeping gatherings small, ensuring good ventilation and staying away from others if we have any symptoms."
Dr. Wang added that the actions of community members have had a "powerful effect" against the spread of COVID-19. She said rates remain "relatively low" and trends are stable.
"For the first time in 2021, our indicators are now comparable to where they were last October," she said.
The region's weekly incidence rate sits at approximately 15 cases per 100,000 residents.
"We have been able to limit and control the spread of COVID-19 in our community through high vaccination rates and public health measures," Dr. Wang said.
COVID-19 NOT YET ENDEMIC
Dr. Wang said it's still too soon to consider COVID-19 an endemic rather than a pandemic.
"I obviously can't foresee what the government may decide, but I anticipate because of the risks about entering the peak of cold season in a couple of months and still having to immunize our children, I anticipate that we won't be considering an endemic state until probably closer to the end of winter season, beginning of spring 2022," she said.
Dr. Wang added moving to an endemic doesn't mean all cases of the disease will be eliminated. Instead, it would mean COVID-19 no longer runs the risk of overwhelming the healthcare systems.
She added the entire population will likely need to reach a vaccination rate around 90 per cent, which won't happen until children are eligible for shots.
Currently, around three-quarters of the entire population of Waterloo Region is vaccinated against COVID-19.
"We remain at risk," Dr. Wang said.
More than 90 per cent of eligible residents in Waterloo Region have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and more than 86 per cent are considered fully vaccinated.
The region's vaccine lead, Vickie Murray, said more than 5,500 Waterloo Region residents have received a first dose since the start of October.
Around 10,000 residents are also currently eligible for their second dose. Murray encouraged residents to get their second dose as soon as they are eligible.
"We are still averaging around 900 vaccine doses per day, with community pharmacies administering approximately 60 per cent of those doses," Murray said.
Dr. Wang said around 160,000 people in Waterloo Region are not yet vaccinated.
Murray said they continue to work with the Ministry of Health and local school boards to plan for when vaccines will be available for children under the age of 12.
APPROACHING FLU SEASON
Flu shots will be available to all residents early next month and are already being administered to high-risk populations.
This year, anyone two and older will be able to receive their flu shot at a pharmacy. The region is also planning on vaccine clinics for families with children under the age of two, and shots are available at primary care offices.
"You are able to get the flu shot even if you have recently gotten your COVID-19 vaccine," Dr. Wang said. "COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time as or any time before or after (a flu shot)."
Dr. Wang said there are no lab-confirmed cases of the flu in Waterloo Region at this point, but any cases will be reported to the public.
Regional Chair Karen Redman reported a total of six enforcement actions at Friday's briefing.
City of Waterloo bylaw issued four summons to appear in court for private gatherings under the Reopening Ontario Act.
There were also two $880 tickets from City of Waterloo bylaw for gatherings at private residences.
With files from CTV Toronto